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Spurs came to Old Trafford with that familiar feeling of impending doom – it’s not been a happy place for them to visit for a generation now. That said, depending on Fergie’s team selection they may be forgiven for thinking things might be about to change – United’s midfield has too often been there for the taking and Spurs have some powerful options in that area. As ever, we welcome comments from both sets of fans.
Starting line up – so obviously wrong
It’s fair to say United fans’ worst fears were realised. The defence and to some extent the attack was to be predicted but the midfield lacked everything it would need against a powerful Spurs team that would press high. Giggs was to start left but as he did against Wigan, he’d drift infield to create a very lopsided team. It meant that United lacked pace, power and time in central areas. Spurs, with Dembele and Sandro, easily dominated and would go in two goals ahead of United at the break but arguably might feel they could have tested Lindegaard and United more.
United didn’t appear to have any plan – when in possession they always looked for Nani on the right because there was often no one on the left. Frustratingly, Kagawa was on the fringes – rarely in possession as United tried to focus on width rather than use him in the middle. It begs the question of whether United and Fergie truly know how to get the most out of him. United are a side that like to play with width but that’s not conducive to getting the best out of Shinji who really should be a focal point for a more central style of play with some lateral movement.
Painful to say, but like players have to be culpable for their errors – this was a gargantuan one from Fergie that unfortunately would cost United the game, with everything playing into Spurs’ hands so they could cut United apart with ease.
A small point, and one that may get lost in the aftermath and fallout but Lindegaard may be slightly disappointed with how things panned out for him. Spurs, with Defoe upfront, were unlikely to try and get crosses in and hence De Gea wouldn’t have had an issue with that today. Where Anders potentially could have done better was on Spurs’ second and third goals. Bale’s shot for the second didn’t go in beyond Anders’ dive but in line with his hands – it was the kind of attempted save that De Gea has pulled off quite a few times. For the third, Lindegaard parried the ball into a dangerous area – the centre of the six yard box. United’s defenders shouldn’t have allowed Dempsey to be unmarked but the ball really should have been pushed to the side of the goal.
Giggs – is the end closing in?
It’s sad to see such a hero of mine and legend of the game play the game and be completely off the pace and out of his depth. Giggs has to be used against opponents he can play well against and that nowadays is generally teams in the bottom half of the table. Against the bigger sides, he can be useful off the bench but unfortunately in a team that contains Carrick and Scholes, a player with more energy is required.
Without going into details, I’ll just recommend reading this piece on Giggs and why, with a heavy heart, it might be/could be/should be his final year at United. Is there even an outside chance he might ‘do a Gary Neville’ and call it a day himself mid-season? Fergie’s right to praise his physical state saying he could go on longer but technically and even mentally, he’s just not sharp enough it seems for the very top level.
Half time changes – Rooney’s influence, and Scholes
Two goals down at the break and Fergie had to make a change to undo his error of starting with the wrong team. He decided to take Giggs off and bring Rooney on, with Kagawa going wide left. Rooney would add some much needed presence into both the midfield and attack but more than anything, he brought some energy and enthusiasm into the game. It was exactly what United needed and Kagawa, although not a winger, actually stayed wide to give the side more shape and balance.
Rooney’s performance against Newcastle midweek had been very encouraging and that carried on today. He was busy, neat, and allowed those around him to play with a higher tempo. He also seemed to scare Spurs – they got deeper and weren’t sure whether to try and focus on closing Wayne down or Scholes, fortunately, they choose the former. This allowed Scholes to completely dominate the second half. Words simply do not do justice to his second half performance – maybe it was one of his finest at the club. Every pass was the right one, every long ball was perfect, every flick, every shot, every everything was performed to a ‘world class’ standard.
At 37, some fans lament the fact that United are still heavily reliant on the ginger asthmatic but that shouldn’t be a concern because right now, there is no one better than him at performing his role. The problem is that when he does start to show signs of not being good enough, how do you replace him? Right now, we don’t have an alternative for him and he remains such a valuable cog in the United machine.
Somewhat frustratingly, Kagawa, who had been excellent coming in from the left and really started to positively impact play in the second half, was replaced by Welbeck late on and United seemed to lose some of their gained momentum.
Spurs get a win, decisions and some luck for a change
It had been well documented that Spurs hadn’t won at Old Trafford for nearly 23 years and many of their fans have done their fair share of reminding people that they’ve had some rotten luck when it comes to decisions at United too. This time round though they certainly saw the key decisions go in their favour. It’s not a classic case of a moaning United fan but just pointing out that Spurs have had some overdue luck. A handball, a foul and maybe one more slightly more dubious foul in the penalty area were overlooked and United got nada. Karma?
Still, Spurs can be proud of their win, the first in a generation – if the first half was about pace and power, the second was about defending, discipline and shape. Whilst United had chances that they should have taken, Spurs played their part in ensuring that more than 90% of United’s crosses were not completed. They themselves had to play a centre back at left back and a (good) youngster in the heart of the defence – AVB can certainly be proud that the pressure in the second half only saw them breached twice.
Final thoughts: Rio and Evans, woodwork and intensity
It might go forgotten but United hit the bar and the post in the game – a stunning Rooney free kick was just a few inches too wide and a looping Carrick header saw everyone stand still and see it hit the frame of the goal. There were other chances too that just weren’t taken – van Persie and Evra the main culprits.
Rio seemed to come in for heavy criticism because he was out-paced by Bale. Erm, really? It’s not his fault he’s lost some pace and Gareth is very quick. Rio’s compensated for losing some of his speed well over the last 12 months and it was more the fault of the midfield that it came down to a one-on-one speed race with Bale. With Vidic, Smalling and Jones out, we need to hope that Evans’ injury right at the very end isn’t serious – if he has to miss a week or two, United may be in trouble.
Why oh why can’t United start games like they seem to have to start second halves? In every game bar one in the league we’ve had to come from behind which isn’t good enough at all. Can’t the players be motivated from the off or is it more to do with Fergie picking the wrong team to begin with and having to make changes?
Stat of the game: Spurs only completed 35 passes in the entire second half. When you think about that, it’s astonishing!
Spurs recorded their first win at Old Trafford since 1989 with a 3-2 victory over United. Ferguson surprisingly included Giggs in his side whilst AVB went for Dempsey over Sigurdsson who’d been ill midweek. Things started brilliantly for Tottenham as Vertonghen linked up with Bale and cruised into the United area before seeing his shot deflected in via Evans. United couldn’t cope with Spurs’ midfield and one became two when Bale surged through the middle with minimal fuss from left to right and shot past Lindegaard into the corner.
The second half was manic – Rooney spurred United into life and his fabulous cross was turned in by Nani. The Portuguese winger had a frustrating first half but being the only wide player in United’s side, there was no alternative as the midfielders tried to get the ball to him every time. Within the next three minutes two more goals were scored. First, Lindegaard could only parry a shot at the feet of Dempsey and then van Persie superbly found Kagawa who squeezed a shot in.
Without being harsh on Spurs, United should have gone on to take all three points – chances were created and missed, the woodwork was rattled, and some pretty clear decisions didn’t go their way. Spurs themselves were due some luck and a win and can be very pleased with many aspects of how they played but even the most ardent of Spurs fans cannot deny that United deserved at least a draw. Now, United must regroup and prepare for Cluj away on Tuesday and then Newcastle away on Sunday. This defeat will probably leave a sour taste for some time and that first half in particular will go down as one of Fergie’s biggest tactical guffs of recent years.